Kaylee Pinecone recently spoke with Nomos Journal’s Seth M. Walker about her recent ongoing project: Tales of the Tarot, a web comic exploring the symbolism and meaning of each card in the Major Arcana.
Hi, Kaylee. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as an illustrator?
Sure thing! I’m an illustrator, comic artist, and writer from central Ohio. I studied illustration at Columbus College of Art and Design, and for the last seven years, I’ve worked as a Content Creator/Illustrator, mostly making art to go on stickers, coffee mugs, tee shirts, and such. A little over a year ago, I did a prologue comic for my friends Matt Erman and Lisa Sterle’s comic series Long Lost. I grew up reading and drawing comics, but it honestly never really crossed my mind as something I could do professionally. After the Long Lost prologue, I jumped into doing comics and haven’t looked back.
There’s a certain look to your work that you’ve described as a sort of 1970s and 1980s video game aesthetic. What influenced this style?
Definitely growing up in a large family where no one ever got rid of anything. I have a lot of older cousins, so growing up I would have all these hand-me-down toys from the ‘80s. Also, my grandma kept EVERYTHING from when my mom and her siblings were kids. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house as I grew up, so I was always going through all these books and toys from the ‘70s and photo albums full of pictures of my mom rocking a perfect Farrah Fawcett flip. Also, there’s something about the ‘70s and ‘80s where it’s current enough that it hasn’t been completely mythologized like the ‘50s, but it’s long ago enough to really hit people in their nostalgic guts. There’s something about a ‘70s color palette that’s kind of sad and I like incorporating that feeling into my art. Bright and familiar with a pinch of being a bummer.
Bright and familiar with a pinch of being a bummer…I like that! Pieces like “I Hate It Here” or “Suck My Balls” noticeably push that pinch into something even more rhetorically ironic or irreverent. Do you generally have the same process and method when you’re creating a new piece?
Not so much. My full-time and freelance career has consisted of so many wildly different projects that each piece is kind of its own beast. I do have mostly the same process for each chapter of Tales of the Tarot, though. It’s mostly just doing a buck wild amount of research, then writing the chapter, designing the character, thumb-nailing the pages, etc. Sometimes I’ll do the character design before I write just to make the character more real in my head, if that makes sense.
Ah, yes – I’m glad you brought up your new ongoing web comic, Tales of the Tarot. Can you tell us a bit about the Tarot in general, and how your project engages with it in particular?
The form of Tarot I think most people are the most familiar with is esoteric Tarot, which is used for cartomancy or as a means of divination. In this kind of Tarot deck, there are 78 cards, 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. There are four suits like in a typical deck of playing cards. Each card has its own intricate symbolism and represents a different situational, thematic, or personality archetype. The Major Arcana are the first 22 cards in your standard Tarot deck. They’re the most recognizable cards, and when they show up in a reading they hold a greater significance than cards of the Minor Arcana. They also tell a story of a journey from card to card, so ultimately I chose the Major Arcana because it made sense to start the project at the beginning.
How does Tales of the Tarot tell each narrative surrounding the corresponding cards in the Major Arcana?
Each chapter is a four-page short story based around the symbolism and intended meaning of each card in the Major Arcana. Some stories are more abstract than others, but some of the cards’ meanings are intentionally less tangible than others as well.
Is that element of tangibility related to the symbolic or archetypal features of each card, or just an obscure history surrounding their creation?
I would say a bit of both. For instance, the “The Fool” represents the beginning of something and the anxieties/foolishness that goes along with inexperience, which is a pretty straightforward and familiar concept. Then you have “The Star,” which represents faith and hope, which are somewhat nebulous concepts. The origins of Tarot are obscure for sure, though. There are also a lot of very strong differing opinions between Tarot historians and card readers about the origin and symbolic significance of the cards.
From “The Fool”
So where do these narratives come from, then?
A mass amount of research. I look up the card meaning, symbolism, and interpretations in different books and online resources. I research decks and how other artists depict the Major Arcana, what symbols are the most important on these cards, how can I work that into a story, etc. So, the narratives are just my interpretation of a card’s meaning. I am not any kind of authority on Tarot, so Tales of the Tarot is less about, “THIS IS WHAT THIS CARD DEFINITELY MEANS!!!” and more, “This is the vibe I got from this card.” I try to keep the stories loosey goosey and open to interpretation because, again, I’m not trying to tell anyone what cards should mean, just showing them what they can mean.
For someone hesitant to claim any authority on these narratives and their potential interpretations, you certainly sound like you’ve done your homework! Would you recommend any particular resources for our readers if they wanted to follow in your footsteps?
I don’t think I’ve found many sources I’d recommend/endorse just yet. While researching, I’ve found that even modern authors tend to look at the Tarot through a very cis-normative, heterocentric lens. Authors’ descriptions of cards with women on them in particular are often low-key sexist and heavily based on gender stereotypes. I don’t want to recommend resources that perpetuate those kinds of sentiments. Thankfully, there are a lot of queer artists really changing the game by creating Tarot decks that reflect themselves and the people around them. For instance, Trung Nguyen is creating a deck with several different “Lovers” cards that depict couples made up of many different genders. As experiences other than cis/white/het are more and more depicted in Tarot, I believe that will lead to more LGBTQ writers and writers of color exploring the subject, which will be rad. I’d encourage people looking to get into Tarot to find a deck that they identify with first. Most decks will come with a guide book, which should be enough to get you started.
That’s great to hear people like Nguyen are pushing back in this context against those types of norms and stereotypes that have plagued Western thought and traditions. Was this partly what inspired you to begin the project?
No, it wasn’t what inspired me to begin the project. It was something that became apparent after I had started and was spending so much time researching Tarot. When I was pitching comic ideas to Liminal 11, I knew I wanted to make something didactic and informative but not full-blown instructional. A comic about Tarot cards seemed like a good fit for their brand, and I thought the narratives would be an interesting way to depict the abstract meanings of various Tarot cards. I’ve always owned a deck, and I have done Tarot-themed personal artwork in the past, but my understanding of Tarot overall is still fairly rudimentary. My hope is that a project like this will allow me to research and learn more, and at the same time share what I am learning in the form of a comic.
You noted the divinatory features of the deck earlier. How are the cards generally used in that way? Are those qualities important for what you’re doing in terms of discerning the symbolism?
So, when using Tarot for divination or self-reflection, you’ll need a deck, a question, and a spread. Spreads are different formations that you use to lay out your cards. Most commonly seen on TV and movies is a nine-card spread. The placement of cards 1 through 9 needs to have significance, but that significance varies from person to person. You can also read the spread left to right, top to bottom, any way you choose. Generally speaking, the first few cards will relate to a problem at hand, the middle cards will relate to your path, and the last three will reflect the outcome of your situation, but that’s just one of an endless number of examples. Cards can also have different meanings depending on if they appear upright or upside down (usually referred to as reversed.) I don’t know if I’d say how cards appear in spreads is wildly important to what I’m doing with the comic. I think trying to encompass too much in the comic would leave me with a mess so obtuse that people wouldn’t enjoy reading it. I do try to convey as much nuance as I can. I feel the best about a chapter when I am able to illustrate both upright and reversed meanings in one story to really showcase the conflicting concepts represented in each card.
How many cards have you already illustrated in the comic? Do you have a timeline for finishing the rest?
I just finished “The Emperor” and I’m starting on “The Hierophant,” so I have five out of twenty-two stories completed. A new page is published every week on Liminal 11’s blog, and the published book of Tales of the Tarot is slated to come out in the Spring of 2020.
Is there a particular card that you find most meaningful or interesting?
I’m a big fan of “The Tower.” I have a tattoo of it from my shoulder to my elbow. “The Tower” represents painful, sudden calamity, but also liberation. The card depicts a tower being struck by lightning and falling apart. The message is more or less, “Oh no! The tower that I worked so hard to build is gone! What will I do?! Oh. I can do anything, really. I don’t have to worry about that tower anymore. That was scary but now I’m free from that tower.”
I really like that! What a great symbol and reminder when it comes to the work we beat ourselves up over and the attachments we create through our relationships with other people and things. Which number is that card? Have you already started working on it? It sounds like it will likely be either one of the easiest or one of the most difficult.
That card is number 16. I’m writing them in numerical order, so I haven’t gotten there yet. I’ll either have a super easy time with it because the meaning is so clear to me, or I’ll agonize over it because it’s special to me and I’ll get all in my head about it. It’s been really surprising: some chapters I’ll write in fifteen minutes and others will take me days of teeth-pulling tedium to get through. The obnoxious thing is the fifteen-minute chapters are usually better.
Do you have any other immediate projects planned for after Tales of the Tarot?
Nothing official. I’m working on some pitches right now, but at the moment my plate is so full it’s hard to think about what comes next.
Do you have a favorite comic series, graphic novel, and/or web comic?
Woof. I think it’s too hard to say that I have one favorite. Reading Sailor Moon manga as a wee babe was what got me into graphic novels in the first place, so that series ranks pretty high up there. I’ve been in love with Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples for years. There are also so many great new series too like Long Lost by Matthew Erman and Lisa Sterle, or Sparrowhawk by Delilah S. Dawson and Matias Balsa. My house is quickly being overrun by comics. It’s a full-blown infestation of books.
I’ve heard a lot of great things about Saga, so that’s definitely been on my radar. I’m a sucker for a good space opera! I’m looking forward to checking out Long Lost and your contribution to that as well! I know our readers will be interested to explore some of those, too. What about non-graphic titles or other visual works? Have you drawn any particular inspiration from other forms of literature or artwork?
When I started writing Tales of the Tarot, I was listing to the Dungeons & Dragons podcast “The Adventure Zone” for the first time and also listing to Porter Robinson’s album Worlds on a loop. They both conjure these worlds that are familiar fantasy with futuristic elements. That’s the same sort of setting I want Tales of the Tarot to occupy, so those two things have been a big influence. I want the comic to feel like it’s taking place all the time and no time simultaneously to pay homage to how long Tarot has been with us and continues to still be relevant. Also, because that’s the kind of world most Final Fantasy games take place in, and I’m a big fan.
Where can our readers view and purchase your work? What’s the best way for them to follow you?
There’s a new homepage for the comic so the archive is really easy to navigate. You can find more of my work and my online store at http://kayleepinecone.com, and the best way to follow me is @kayleepinecone on Twitter and Instagram. Thanks!